MT Business Classic: In Search of Excellence

Stefan Stern reminds us why In Search of Excellence is a must-read for managers.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 30 Sep 2013

In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's best-run companies

Thomas J Peters and Robert H Waterman Jr

Harper & Row, 1982

OK, so this is it. The big one. The original and, in a sense, still the best. In Search of Excellence (ISOE) marked the start of the modern business era. It has had several imitators - indeed, it remains the publisher's template (or fantasy) of a bestselling business book. And what a smash it was, selling three million copies in its first four years.

Yet it came about by chance. Peters and Waterman were McKinsey consultants working on an organisational development project. Peters had built a monster two-day presentation consisting of hundreds of slides (real acetates of course then). Distilled down, it became a book with its eight characteristics of successful companies.

Top businesses had a bias for action, were close to their customers, had productive staff, stuck to what they knew, and so on. All cliches now, perhaps, but added together they were hugely influential.

The authors had redefined business, so radically that Peters left McKinsey soon afterwards to become the world's most famous management guru.

When I asked him how he would describe ISOE, Peters told me it was 'a decent book with perfect timing'.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School.

Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern

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